Sustainable return is the buzzword in many sectors today. Investment in energy, agriculture, ecosystems, and other sectors have been studied for sustainability. Surprisingly education is considered a very important and essential sector in a country. The sustainable returns have not been fully discussed, defined, and evaluated in this sector. Let us discuss a promising return on education in Pakistan with more meaningful insights for all the stakeholders.

Students, parents, family, community, government, and other institutions spend a lot of money, time, and effort in education.  As stakeholders, it is only fair to assume that they expect reasonable sustained returns.

Change in Education System

To date, many reports have pointed to the need of changing education to fulfill the need of the countries, societies, employers, and graduates. The reason is that the investment done by all the relevant stakeholders has a measurable and beneficial return.   Education institutions, and especially the ones in developing countries, continue to ask for more and more budgets for education. Developing countries already have strained budgets.   Asking for more funds from the governments needs more justification with some better and verifiable and measurable criteria.  There is however no comparative evaluation done on the benefits and impacts of earlier spending, and the proposed benefits of the requested funds.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Cost-Benefit analysis is now the norm for all sectors and should be done for all investments whether they be personal, society or government.  Even the social benefits can now be quantified to be able to justify the investment requested in these sectors. Higher education needs to do something similar.   The lack of such planning was pointed out in a 2014 article by the known consultants McKinsey who predicted that countries will face crises in the government and education sectors as they do not know what needs to be done and how.

Money and other resources have been allocated but the ability to deploy the funds effectively by knowing or defining the desired impact and measuring the results has been lacking.

Market & Society Needs Driven Education System

The present system of education and higher education is being challenged and the whole concept of the university as we know it today will likely change in the coming years.  The concept of four years degrees, separate departments, silo-based programs, method of teaching, evaluation system, etc. will change.  This will be driven by the market and society’s needs. Therefore, investing in more of the same of what we have today might not be the most suitable and sustainable model.

In developing countries such as Pakistan, it is very disheartening to see people with stretched means pouring a big chunk of their meager funds into children’s education in the hope that this will give them financial returns i.e. the investment will have sustainable returns.  Only to be disappointed as the qualifications and degrees acquired by their children do not have the expected returns.

Similar is the case with scarce government funds, scholarships and financial support funds, donations by charitable people and organizations, and very importantly course the money investing public.

The encouraging thing is that this realization is dawning and people and organizations have started talking about the education-employment gap, the market and academia linkages needed, etc. resulting in designing programs, courses and teaching methodologies to make educated people as employable people.

Developing In-Demand Skills

At the World Economic Forum in January 2018 global leaders promised to join a reskilling revolution to provide needed skills for employability or self-employment.   Even the HEC in Pakistan has announced special courses to enable graduates with 16 years of education to acquire more marketable and in-demand skills. This, however, is being wise after the event.  In hindsight what becomes more important is that we build in the relevant knowledge and skill into the existing programs so that the provided education becomes more relevant.  The investment made will deliver a clearer and more definable return thereby providing education with sustainable benefits.

Role of Universities

While the role of universities will be very important, it is essential that the nation’s planners, governing bodies and supervising regulators develop criteria for defining and measuring sustainability and expected returns.  The ranking of the universities, their evaluation and funding, and their proposed cost structure can be governed by these factors.

A well-known program in Pakistan advertised itself by just stating “ X percentage of grads employed (including self-employed) at an average income of Rs.    ……annually within … months of graduation”

Let us make education in Pakistan more meaningful for all the stakeholders; the students, employers, partners, society, and the country, who all have a lot at stake in it.

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